Wonderful joy! Unspeakable joy! It was joy that called for the fatted calf, the music and the dancing. The party was not for the recovered son, as the older son imagined. After such a shameful display, what son would desire a party in his honor? This party was not for either son. The jubilation belonged to the rejoicing father. His son that was lost was found; the son that was dead was now alive. The father had to vent his glad heart in a celebration. Could there be a stronger display of God’s joy than the superlative joy attributed to Him in this parable?
But, is this God’s highest joy? Allow me to give a personal illustration. When my grandson was very young he suffered from acute asthma. One spring, we received a desperate call from my son requesting prayer—our grandson was hospitalized with a very serious asthma attack. Like the shepherd in the parable who left the 99 sheep to attend to the one, my son and his wife entrusted their two daughters to the care of grandparents while they kept vigil with their sick child in the hospital for a full week. How glad we were to finally receive the news that his fever had broken, his infection was under control and he was out of imminent danger. Oh, there was rejoicing in our family!
I will never forget what my son said to me on that occasion. “Dad, we have never been happier in our lives; but it is a joy I wish I never had to have!” There is power in that statement! How glad they were that their son was better, but they would have been a million times happier if he never got sick in the first place.
It is true that the Lord is filled with joy when a sinner is restored. He runs; He hugs; He kisses; He cries; He throws a celebration party. Restoration, however, is not His highest joy.
God’s highest joy is the joy He has when we walk in union with Him. The highest joy of God is so ineffable He describes instead the joy that He would rather not experience. If the joy of restoration causes all Heaven to ring with laughter and delight, how much more must His joy be when His children walk in unbroken fellowship with Him?
THE HIGHEST JOYO Love that will not rest until the lost sheep is restored;
O love without regret that brings me back unto the Lord!
By my return, I’ve filled Your heart with gladness— this I know!
I’m thankful, and I’m sorry, that you had to love me so!
The Lord will always leave the sheep to seek and find the stray;
Give less attention to the flock, than one who went away.
The rescue fills His heart with joy, unspeakable, no doubt!
But such a joy, at such a cost, He’d rather do without!
The Lord will count no labor lost, the sinner to rejoin;
He’ll sweep the corners of the earth until He finds His coin.
The joy of restoration makes the courts of Heaven ring!
It is the song the Lord prefers to never have to sing!
The Lord will watch with longing love, and infinite concern;
Dissolve in tears and kisses at the prodigal’s return;
Will celebrate with song and dance; will every gift impart;
Such joy, that welcomes sinners home, comes from a broken heart!
The Father’s highest joy is when the child is in health;
He takes the highest pleasure, when the child shares his wealth;
In fellowship and union, God enjoys the highest rest;
Unbroken fellowship gives God the highest joy and best!
— Ed Miller